Hello everyone this is my first article of many I hope from Russia for Gunners Town and you can read my bio at the end! – Alex
My, the last couple of days dragged by painfully slowly. I suspect it’s as much to do with us playing on Tuesday as with all the subsequent introspection and self-reflection by the manager and the players. As well of course, by the fans, the media and the pundits etc.
It’s of little comfort, but other English teams didn’t make it past the current round whatever the competition. A Joe-Hart inspired City (if clinging to a 1-0 loss can be called inspiration) went out at Barca’s hand, Chelsea failed to beat ten-men PSG the other week and, finally, Everton crashed out of Europa League in some fashion: by losing to Dinamo Kiev 5-2 and 6-4 on aggregate.
Back to Arsenal, and there have been all sorts of right things coming from the players and Arsene. Wenger, for instance, called for the abolition of the away goal rule. And while you have to admit it’s a strange rule in modern-day football, which can lead to both teams shutting shop and playing on the counter for the entirety of the 180 minutes, it’s the rule, full stop. It was known well before we crashed out, everyone plays by it and everyone adapts. You can make a case that this rule is strange, surely (isn’t the penalty shoot-out too?) and initiate a process of changing it, but while it’s here, you have to take it into consideration. Play cautiously at home, don’t concede three, adapt.
Back to the task at hand and we face Newcastle away. The presser took place yesterday, so now we know what players are available.
Team news update
There really isn’t much new. Rosicky might be back, no one sustained fresh injures midweek and so what we have we hold. There are no comebacks for Arteta and Debuchy (both are at least three weeks away), Oxlade-Chamberlian (should also be out for around three weeks) and Wilshere are still out. I wonder whether Arsene is playing mind games here. He just doesn’t want to risk losing Jack in a meaningless England friendly and I’m fine with that.
The more players we can keep during the Interlull, the better. We know for sure Chambers, Gibbs, Welbeck and Walcott are going to play for England, Koscielny and Giroud are going away with France and chances are Ozil, Sanchez and Ramsey will go represent their respective countries. Rosicky too, I think. My hope is that at least our Englishmen and Giroud/Kos won’t feature a lot, as they are not established regulars in national teams, so we can dodge a bullet with them. Ramsey, Ozil, Sanchez and Rosicky? Not so sure.
Right, with that sorted out it’s time to try and put together the squad.
Poor Szczesny. I think there are only two ways he can find his way back into the team: 1) a ridiculously poor run of form from Ospina (unlikely) 2) an injury to the Colombian. Last time Chezza was dropped and Fabianski was given the green light only an injury to the elder Pole saw Wojciech return to the starting lineup. He then put together a brilliant run of games (it was in 2013) and was the number one goalie for the whole of last season. Again, Woj was very good, got the Golden Glove and Ospina was viewed as solid back-up when we purchased him in the summer.
How the situation has changed since then. Szczesny kept only three clean sheets in 17 games, capped this with a debacle of a performance on New Year’s day and was subsequently caught smoking in the showers. He was dropped and has firmly become second-choice, while Ospina grabbed his chance with both hands, kept 7 clean sheets in 11 games and during that run was robbed at least three times (Leicester, QPR, Crystal Palace). His best game was against Tottenham and, while suspect during the first leg against Monaco, did nothing criminal there either.
However slim Szczesny’s chances look right now, I don’t want to see him leave in the summer. He’s a very talented goalkeeper, still very young and, though most Arsenal fans agree Ospina is a more solid and assuring presence between the sticks, they also hold Chezza in high regard and consider him a better keeper overall. So I really hope he stays, sorts out his discipline issues and grabs his chance when it presents itself. As it surely will.
I saw some criticism of Monreal post-Monaco and I find it surprising. He did nothing wrong while he was on, it was him who squared the ball to Walcott in the 79th minute and so for me the Spaniard should start.
As should Bellerin, but I do wonder whether Wenger will want to revisit his Gabriel experiment and who he will rest if he chooses to do so. I’m sure Gabriel-Koscielny is our solution in the long-term; right now however, I’d rest Kos. He played a lot, he didn’t get a rest like his German partner and he will go away with French national team. We don’t want to overload his Achilles tendons, do we?
On current form, Ramsey should start alongside Coquelin. Two goals in two games, the usual workrate, clever interchanges with Giroud. The Welshman is back to his best, when on form he’s our most reliable number 8, and thus must play. He’s the link between defense and attack.
However, Ramsey’s inclusion raises the never-ending question: Cazorla or Ozil? We can, of course, shift the German onto the wing and accommodate both, but I wouldn’t do that while Ozil is as good as he has been lately.
In the long perspective, surely Ozil is our number 10, tomorrow; however, the issue of exhaustion might come into play. Ozil is likely to be involved with the national team soon, and for this reason I won’t be surprised to see him benched tomorrow with Santi getting the nod.
Giroud is a guaranteed starter. He made amends with his energetic performance in Monaco, scored another goal and, moreover, he enjoys playing against Newcastle. 6 goals in 5 games, a field day at the Emirates last time we faced the Magpies. No question for me here.
But there is a question with our wingers. Firstly, Sanchez needs a rest, simple as that. He looked absolutely knackered against Monaco, and it wasn’t the first time he did in recent weeks. He’s also likely to play every single minute for Chile, so I’d give him a breather tomorrow, start Welbeck on the left and Walcott on the right.
Yes I would go with Walcott. He hasn’t been great lately, but we must remember form won’t come without game time, and game time is a non-existent quantity for Theo right now. Keeping him benched is hardly going to convince him to sign a new deal, so he should be given play time if we want to keep him. Whether we do is another story.
Bottom line is, Theo is better than his latest performances suggest and he’ll only rediscover his form if he plays.
Since that atrocious 4-4 draw in 2011, we have a great record against Newcastle, winning two games and drawing one at St. James Park (out of three, naturally). And you don’t need me to remind you how good we were at the Emirates for the past three seasons. It still seems like that Walcott hat-trick happened only yesterday, yet Theo got on the score sheet almost two-and-a-half years ago.
Besides, Newcastle will be without Coloccini and Papiss Cisse and having already lost Dummet and Taylor they have only Williamson as a recognized central defender. To say nothing about how their form slumped after Pardew left for Crystal Palace. The Magpies were 5th back then, now they are 11th and the aforementioned Palace can leapfrog them this weekend already. It’s a bit hilarious but that’s not to say we are in for an easy game. There is no such thing in the Premier League.
However, we should have enough to win this game. Playing against Newcastle away isn’t all that easy (remember our last game there?) but we have momentum on our side and will also have a nice long bench with plenty of options.
Besides, with Liverpool playing United we’ll be able to widen the margin on at least one of these. Both, if we are lucky. On current form, I also don’t exclude City dropping points against West Brom. If they do and we don’t, we’ll head into the Interlull as runners-up. Just imagine the scenes. Glorious. Fingers crossed here.
Right, enough said. Back with a review and come on you Gunners